October 1, 2021
Last week my husband and I took a short trip to southern Colorado to visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Since neither of us grew up in Colorado, our knowledge of the state is a bit sparse. Particularly when it comes to Southern Colorado.
On the way south we drove through areas that we had never visited before. At one point, we passed a sign welcoming us to Huerfano County. I immediately turned to my husband and remarked, “I know nothing about Huerfano County, Colorado, but I know there have always been a lot of Hispanics in this area.”
I went on to tell him the story of when I worked on a Colorado statewide project to digitize the 1885 Colorado State Census with our local genealogical society.
Our job was to help index the census by transcribing information from the census forms. I ended up with a number of sheets from Huerfano County. Nearly all of the names were Hispanic, and for someone like me who has no background in the culture, they were difficult to decipher. I spent hours over each one.
Soon after the welcome sign, we stopped in Walsenberg, the county seat of Huerfano County. The town is an antiquer’s dream with several antique stores and a quaint, old county courthouse. I couldn’t help telling my husband that I wished I had ancestors from the area. The courthouse looked like a great place to do research.
On our way home, we drove through Pueblo, one of Colorado’s larger cities. It was well-known as a steel manufacturing city in the 20th century, but for me, its claim to fame is that it’s the home of what was originally called the Colorado Insane Asylum. The Asylum later became the Colorado State Mental Institute, and as such, was the place where a distant cousin spent much of her life. I longingly thought of that old institute as we drove by, wishing we had time to stop and explore. It did spur me into starting to research the old State Institute. I’ve wanted to do that for years, but the trip gave me the push I needed to actually do it.
If you’re sensing a theme here, you’re right. I can’t go anywhere without assessing its genealogical potential or remembering some little factoid that’s related to genealogy. It doesn’t matter if it’s Southern Colorado or Hawaii, I’m always looking for a genealogy-related hook. I especially enjoy finding a link to my own family tree, but, in a pinch, someone else’s will do just fine.
I don’t know if this is just a normal genealogy fixation that most family historians suffer from or a sign of some disturbing obsession that I should try to cure. I don’t really care. All I know is that I enjoy looking into obscure relatives’ lives in out-of-the-way places. Heck, I don’t even really need a relative to want to look into local genealogy. In some people’s eyes, I guess this makes me a bit ditzy. I think it just shows I’m a genealogist.
Researcher/Director at Large